Parts of the prologue of A Fire Upon the Deep seem to be from the point-of-view of the awakening Blight and other passages seem to be about the separate awakening of the Countermeasure, seemingly personified by two artificial consciousnesses engaged in a dialog with each other. These consciousnesses mention that they are copies of Sjana and Arne, the parents of the novel's child protagonists. Towards the end of the book, when Pham/godshatter is "directing" the Countermeasure, he refers to them explicitly as the two "ghosts in Countermeasure — Arne and Sjana".

Why does the Countermeasure contain two sentient intelligences and why are they copies of Arne and Sjana?

1 Answer 1


The two sometimes-separate consciousnesses were an artifact of the awakening of the Countermeasure; it used existing processes/agents as part of how it hid from the Blight.

We are wildlife that must not be noticed by the overness, by the Power that soon will be. On some nodes they shrank to smallness and almost remembered humanity, became echoes....

Once upon a time we were copies of those two. Once upon a time just weeks ago when the archaeologists started the ego-level programs.

So they started out as personal avatars/agents of Sjana and Arne. They were enabled to survive and hide from the Blight by the Countermeasure itself. They even discuss this:

"Still," thought the hopeful one, the one who always looked for the craziest outs, "we should not be. The evil should long ago have found us."

"The evil is young, barely three days old."

"Still. We exist. It proves something. The humans found more than a great evil in this archive."

"Perhaps they found two.

"Or an antidote." Whatever else, the overness was missing some things and misinterpreting others.

The Blight itself reflects on how it missed things:

Long seconds probing the archives. There were gaps, checksums damaged. Some of the damage was age....

But some of the damage was created by the Countermeasure to hide its departure on the human ship.

Yes, there were blindspots, carefully installed from the beginning, and not by the humans. Two had been born here. Itself... and the poison, the reason for its fall of old.

Note that Pham speaks of the ghosts in the past tense; they existed when the Countermeasure fled from the High Lab, but aren't there anymore. He's simply relaying something from a memory of them:

"A thousand light-years? Ten thousand? I'm not sure. The ghosts in Countermeasure - Arne and Sjana thought it might rise so high it would punch into the Transcend, encyst the Blight right where it sits.... That must be what happened Before."

  • I don't know. I took "when the archaeologists started the ego-level programs" to mean when they started running the software components of the blight that were as complex as egos; that is, as complex as human consciousness. Under that interpretation I don't see how it implies that the countermeasure ghosts were avatars or software agents of Sjana and Arne that were coopted by the countermeasure.
    – jwezorek
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 21:05
  • 4
    @jwezorek The humans had been there for weeks, possibly months. It mentions they'd set up a 6-month resupply schedule, and a school for the children. The second quote notes that the ego-level programs were started weeks ago, while the Blight is 3 days old. The programs were started on the human network using their own technology, not as part of the Blight's bootstrapping.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 21:09

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